July 21, 2014

STRANGER: Matt Bauman
LOCATION: Locanda Verde, 377 Greenwich Street, New York City
THEME: Dinner with an actor/realtor/coaching website owner

Matt Bauman always knew he wanted to be an actor.

But he never expected to be a real estate broker.

Nor did he anticipate creating a website, CoachMeNYC, to connect people in the theater industry with coaches and teachers, such as vocal trainers.

But now he’s juggling all three professions. And although it means he doesn’t have a lot of free time, it’s exactly how he wants to live his life.

“I’m very impatient and I get bored very easily, so the fact I have three different things to focus on means I’m happy,” he said during dinner in New York City. The city so nice they named it twice is a place he’s always wanted to live, and he’s fulfilling his goal.

Matt, 26, lives in Midtown, which meant it was a short journey for him to get to our dinner destination, Locanda Verde in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. Just a few blocks from the firehouse featured in Ghostbusters (I had to take a tourist photo outside), the upscale restaurant features traditional Italian dishes. And it appears to be popular.

As we walked to our table I admired the dark wood and brick interior of the place. It’s a classy venue, which gave me high hopes for good quality food.

After Matt and I placed our orders, we enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks. For him, a Commendatore, which mixes Rhum Clement VSOP, house-spiced grenadine, Solerno Blood Orange and lime. For me, an Old Fashioned Splendente with Michter’s Rye, charred peach and smoked Italian bitters. Tremendous drinks.

As we sipped our cocktails, Matt told me that of his three professions, he has long been certain of his desires to live in New York City and to work in theater.

Born and raised in Melville on Long Island, Matt’s parents — who still live in the area — let him take the train into the Big Apple alone from about the age of 10. So he was exploring Manhattan from an early age, and liked what he saw.

“I always wanted to move here,” he said. “And I would like to stay here. I see it as a long-term relationship. I love escaping to other places, but feel like New York is in my blood. I always want to be in arm’s reach of the city. It’s inspiring in many ways.”

The bright lights of Broadway and ever-changing roster of productions on and off the Great White Way probably help keep Matt inspired. But he’s always loved performing.

“As I kid I was very hyperactive, always singing and dancing. I would see people tap-dancing on TV or in movies, and attach spoons to my feet with a rubber band and dance on the linoleum floor at home,” said Matt.

His mother told him about an after-school dancing program at elementary school, and both Matt and his brother enrolled. “I picked up the moves really well,” Matt said.

At this point, a busboy came up to our table and delivered some fantastic foccacia bread to chew on ahead of our starters. Made in house, it’s fresh and surprisingly light.

While I overindulged on the bread, Matt told me that it wasn’t long before the dance program teacher at school noticed how well he was picking up dancing. The teacher asked whether Matt would want to join the school’s competitive dancing team. He did. So at the age of 7 he was performing ballet, jazz, hip hop and other styles. “I started out as a dancer, but then I also did singing and acting.”

At high school the only real outlet for that trifecta of skills was by taking part in school theater productions. Then came graduation and the need to decide on a college degree.

“I happily settled with a theater arts degree,” he said. Studying at Brown University in Rhode Island, the course resembled an English literature degree with a lot of reading. “Brown is very much theory-based. They think that by reading about a play, you’re doing the play. I had a problem with that. I wanted to just perform it. But they kept saying, ‘The practice is in the theory, the practice is in the theory.’”

Despite what he calls his “frustration” with Brown’s approach to teaching theater, Matt concedes that it made him “a smart actor, as opposed to just a plain actor. It helped me to understand character development and the world that the characters are living in.”

Matt is a member of the theater union Equity and finds out about auditions through its website, his agent, or word of mouth. He’s done several gigs in New York, and traveled to other cities to perform, such as a recent stint in Washington, DC, as a Protean in the comedy musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

“There are three things that make me take a job,” Matt said. “It’s either going to be financially worthwhile, or it’s artistically fulfilling, or it’s going to advance my career. If it doesn’t carry two of those three things, I won’t take it.” He said that using that checklist for jobs “focuses the way I think about theater.”

Having the two other careers on the boil allows Matt the luxury to pick and choose his roles. But it wasn’t always like that. When he first moved to New York, he scouted around for jobs waiting tables as a way to make money between acting gigs. One fancy restaurant with a crew of young servers interviewed him, but told him they were “going in a different direction” and didn’t hire him. “I’m young, I’m articulate. What direction are you going in to take food to a table and talk to people?” Matt said, laughing.

I don’t know what direction Locanda Verde went with their servers, but they found a star with our Polish waitress Izabela. She had a feisty sense of humor, gently mocking some of my meal choices and guiding me toward better, tastier dishes, starting with our appetizers.

We decided to split two dishes, including that day’s special salad of market-bought tomatoes with melon, feta cheese and red wine vinaigrette. Great beginning.

The second appetizer was crostini with blue crab, jalapeno peppers, and yet more tomato. The crab was served in thick, generous chunks; the crostini suitably crunchy; and the peppers added a little extra kick.

“My mouth is on fire from the jalapenos,” Matt said.

As we polished off the starters, Matt explained how he stumbled into his career as a real estate broker while pursuing his dream of being an actor in New York.

He was looking for an apartment in the city, using a broker that turned out to be not that great. Matt was doing a lot of the research and groundwork that the broker was getting paid to do. One day, Matt was touring an apartment with his parents and telling them all about it, when his dad joked that perhaps he should try a career as a broker.

That quip sparked Matt’s interest in pursuing a second profession in real estate, and he put down $200 to get an online broker’s license. It took about two months of courses and exams, and once he started work his first paycheck more than paid for the course.

To get started in the real estate sector, one has to be sponsored by a managing broker. Matt joined a large firm in New York and for a year was one of 3,000 agents covering a massive combined area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. He was in at the deep end from the start. “They throw you to the wolves,” he said. Still, he stayed with the company for a year.

That’s when he heard about Next Step Realty, a firm that works with college graduates moving to New York to pair them with realtors. Matt contacted the firm, and eventually was hired as one of the founding brokers. “I’ve never looked back,” Matt said.

He doesn’t have to find clients, as the company does that for him. Instead, Matt has to find his clients apartments based on their needs. He’s been doing it for about three years and by now has developed sufficient contacts with management companies and landlords that he gets good information on great locations in the real estate jungle of New York. It saves his clients hours and hours of scouring the internet or the city for deals on suitable locations, and he earns a commission on successful deals.

The real estate profession also complements the acting career, Matt said. “The way I think about it is that being an actor activates the right side of my brain, and being a realtor activates the left side of my brain. And sometimes those two meet. I might have to act as a realtor, or as an actor I might have to sell myself,” he added.

“Did I imagine myself being a realtor when I graduated? No. Am I happy? Absolutely,” Matt said, flashing a smile he wears often, complementing his cheerful, outgoing personality.

I was grinning for another reason: The entrees had arrived.

Matt wanted seafood and opted for the glazed halibut served with heirloom squash, yukon potatoes and fennel. A mound of food but, by his account, delectable.

At Izabela’s suggestion, I opted for the house-made paccheri pasta (large tubular shapes), stuffed with sharp provolone picante cheese and “Sunday night ragu” whatever that might be. Although I didn’t know what was in the ragu, this was a glorious, filling dish. Washed down with a glass of 2011 Talenti Trefolo Indicazione Geografica Tipica wine, it made for a rich, wonderful meal. The cheese and sauce had the right amount of spice, and the pasta was perfectly made.

Matt told me that Locanda Verde is trendy at the moment, and in a fashionable neighborhood. Makes sense, as we were among many other happy diners that night.

In-between the main course and dessert — which we ordered to sample, despite the very satisfying entrees — Matt explained that in addition to his theatrical and real estate work, he’s also working on a third endeavor; his training connections website CoachMeNYC.

As with being a real estate broker, Matt never planned on owning a tech startup.

But real estate and theater work both come and go in droves, so he was looking for something more permanent to occupy his time. Through his theater work in New York he’s made a lot of acquaintances in the entertainment industry. He realized that the way most budding performers find a coach is by asking friends for referrals, which can be a haphazard approach.

“The way the entertainment industry works there is no unified way of finding the right coach,” Matt said. The “nail in the coffin” that inspired the launch of the website was after one week when four friends contacted Matt separately asking for referrals for coaches. He obliged, but then realized that there was no single medium for people to scout for coaches in the city.

So he figured out a name for the website, bought the domain, and began career number three. He hired a website developer and launched the site in September — right before he left to perform in Forum in DC.

Dozens of coaches have signed up for the site, helping to promote it. And Matt also publicizes it through Facebook posts and word of mouth.

While he tries to increase the site’s visibility, he’s also weighing how to best monetize it. Just like theater and real estate, the website is a career and he’s eager to make money off it.

“People don’t pay for things unless they want to,” said Matt, noting that charging people to sign up for the site could discourage potential customers. Instead, he said that it makes more business sense to give coaches and those seeking coaching free access to the site, and charge if and when connections are made. “The difficulty for me is how to keep people using the site. Once you go to a coach, what says you can’t just get their telephone number for the future? I want to make sure people book through the site.”

While he ponders the best way to revise his business model for the site, he’s also striving to achieve new goals in his other careers. For example, when we met he was waiting to hear back on an audition he’d been to for a Broadway version of Forum.

After Matt filled me in on his three careers, there was one more course left that night — dessert. We began with two generous glasses of Aneri Brut Prosecco.

This wasn’t however just a liquid dessert. We asked Izabela for recommendations, saying that we were considering a semi-frozen chocolate dessert. But with a wry grin, Izaebela told us she doesn’t care for chocolate that much, so she wouldn’t let us order it.

Instead, she suggested the Torta di Miele. Essentially a blueberry cake, it’s made with brown butter hazelnuts, eucalyptus miele (honey) and served with blueberry gelato. The cake was serviceable but a tad too chewy. The best part was the refreshing gelato.

We also split a dish that threatened by description alone to be monstrous in size, as it was offered in servings either for one or two people.

La Fantasia di Visciola is a millionaire’s ice cream sundae. Out came mounds of sour cherry lambrusco sorbetto, goat’s milk gelato, white balsamic meringue, and caramel. Every bite was indulgent, but well worth it. The various flavors combined well to make this a Goldilocks dessert: not too sweet, not too savory. Just right.

It was a perfect conclusion to the meal. While we waited for our check, I asked Matt how long he intends to keep pursuing all three of his wildly different careers.

Although he is content to juggle his various commitments at the moment, he recognizes that there will come a time — perhaps several years from now — when he might have to let one of them go. “It hasn’t come to a difficult impasse yet,” he said. “But I think there will come a time where I have to say that I’m no longer this, and I have to focus my attention on that.”

For now, Matt is happy to continuing pursuing three separate careers.

“I could never do just one thing the rest of my life,” Matt said. “What’s the saying? ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ I never thought I’d do all of these things.”

Determined to make each of his three careers a success, Matt makes a conscious effort to give each of the professions sufficient attention. “People say ‘you wear so many hats.’ Yeah, I do, but I wear them all proudly and with confidence, and want them all to look good on me. But I can’t let either one of them overshadow the other,” he said.

We toasted the end of our dinner by finishing our glasses of prosecco. After some more banter with Izabela, I paid the tab and we stepped out into the night.

I needed sleep because I had a lunchtime interview scheduled the next day. Matt had a more unpredictable day ahead. He could wake up as an actor. Or as a website entrepreneur. Or a real estate broker.

And he seems perfectly happy with that.

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